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The Rare, Overstuffed "Turduckenym"

There were cheers and sighs of relief when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID vaccine on August 23, 2021. There was also some head-scratching. The vaccine’s official name, Comirnaty — said to be a blend of Covid, immunity, and mRNA, or “modified RNA” — struck many people as confusing, hard to spell, and hard to pronounce. Community? Comorbidity? Comity? (For the record, it’s koh-MIR-na-tee.)

I’d had some time to adjust to Comirnaty; the name had first been revealed in December 2020, and I’d written about it in my May 2021 roundup of vaccine vocabulary. But I sympathize with the head-scratchers: Even by pharma standards, Comirnaty is a tricky name. One reason — maybe the biggest reason — is that it’s a triple portmanteau, cobbled together not from the usual two elements but from three word parts. Let’s call it a turduckenym, my own cobbled-together word derived from turducken — the three-fowl dish in which a deboned chicken is stuffed into a deboned duck that’s stuffed inside a turkey — plus the nym suffix, signifying “name.”

Vials of Comirnaty

We all know portmanteaus: new words, blended from word parts, that describe novel concepts. Familiar examples include smog (smoke and fog), brunch (breakfast and lunch), spork (a spoon with forklike tines), emoticon (emotion and icon), and motel (motor and hotel). (For more examples, see my August 2016 column, “When Words Collide.”) Lewis Carroll was the first to use portmanteau in its linguistic sense, and he was a prolific master of the form; his enduring creations include chortle (chuckle and snort), slithy (slimy and lithe), and galumph (gallop and triumphant).

Carroll’s portmanteaus, like the word portmanteau itself (porte-manteau, French for “coat-carrier”), are formed from elements of two words, and two words only. And most definitions of portmanteau, including the Visual Thesaurus’s, stipulate that limitation. Triple portmanteaus like Comirnaty — turduckenyms — are much rarer birds.

Turducken and its close cousin pheducken (pheasant, duck, chicken) come pretty close to success, largely because they cheat a little: the whole duck is right there in the middle of the words. Another culinary triple portmanteau, the pie called cherpumple, plays by the rules, pressing into service only snippets of cherry, pumpkin, and apple.

Brianne Hughes, an American editor and historical linguist who blogs at Encyclopedia Briannica, has researched and compiled many turduckenyms. (Her term is “three-toed portmanteaus.”) “Three-part blends are generally unproductive in English,” she observed in a 2015 post, but that hasn’t stopped word-coiners from trying. Here are some examples from the world of brand names and beyond, with full credit to Brianne for several suggestions:

Branding and advertising

Nabisco. Introduced in 1901 as the brand name of a sugar wafer, it later replaced the original corporate name, National Biscuit Company.

Tronc. The short-lived, much-derided name of the Chicago-based media company was both an acronym and a portmanteau created from the first letters of “Tribune Online Content.” This turduckenym lasted just two years, from June 2016 to June 2018.

Twingo. A four-passenger city car introduced by the French automaker Renault in 1992 and still in production. Its name is a blend of three dance styles: twist, swing, and tango. Not to be confused with the US brand TwinGo, a baby carrier for twins.

Waffullicious. Coined by IHOP for a 2014 ad campaign, it’s a blend of waffle, full, and delicious. Not only is the name a turduckenym, the waffles themselves were stuffed. As The Impulsive Buy blog put it, they were “waffles topped with toppings and toppings that are baked into the waffle.” In other words, waffles full of delicious.

Warfarin. The name of the prescription anticoagulant comes from WARF — an acronym of Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation — and the -arin ending of coumarin, a plant with blood-thinning properties.

Food

Canola. From “Canadian oil, low acid.”

Cherpumple. A pie composed of cherry, pumpkin, and apple pies.

Turducken. Chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey.

Veggieducken. A derivative and somewhat misleading name — it contains neither duck nor chicken — for a stuffed-squash vegetarian substitute for turducken. Sometimes known as squashleekotato.

Events

NaNoWriMo. National Novel Writing Month, held every November since 1999.

Chrismahanukwanzakah. Coined in 2004 by Virgin Mobile to recognize Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.

Organizations

Doxbridge. An expansion of the older portmanteau “Oxbridge” that adds the University of Durham to Oxford and Cambridge universities.

Quango. A derogatory term used in the UK to refer to a “quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization.” A BBC explainer, published in 2010, defined a quango as “an organisation funded by taxpayers, but not controlled directly by central government.” (By some measures, Quango is an acronym rather than a true turduckenym.)

People

Cablinasian.Caucasian, Black, Indian, and Asian.” Golfer Tiger Woods’s preferred self-description.

Caublasian. “Caucasian, Black, and Asian.”

Places

Benelux. The region comprising Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg; also the intergovernmental union of those countries.The name was first used in 1944 in a customs agreement.

Filoli. An estate in Woodside, California, open to the public for tours. The name is a blend of  “Fight for a just cause, Love your fellow man, Live a good life,” the original owners’ family motto; the first syllable is pronounced with a long I.

Lamorinda. The area comprising the Bay Area cities of Lafayette, Moraga, and Orinda.

NoLiTa.North of Little Italy,” a neighborhood in Manhattan.

Texarkana. The name shared by two cities, one in Texas and one in Arkansas, in the Texas-Arkansas-Louisiana region.

TriBeCa.Triangle Below Canal Street,” a neighborhood in Manhattan.

And here’s one you may not think of as a portmanteau at all: ampersand. The name for the “&” symbol was coined in the 18th century from a compression of and per se and: “[the character] and by itself is [the word] and.” Here’s how a Wikipedia entry explains it:

Traditionally, when reciting the alphabet in English-speaking schools, any letter that could also be used as a word in itself ("A", "I", and, "O") was repeated with the Latin expression per se (“by itself”), as in "A per se A". It was also common practice to add the & sign at the end of the alphabet as if it were the 27th letter, pronounced as the Latin et or later in English as and. As a result, the recitation of the alphabet would end in "X, Y, Z, and per se and". This last phrase was routinely slurred to "ampersand" and the term had entered common English usage by 1837.

Turduckenyms may be rare and challenging to create, but that doesn’t deter some dauntless coiners. In late August I was alerted to a tweet about the 2020 presidential-election “audit” dragging on (and on and on) in Maricopa County, Arizona. Cybersecurity expert Chris Krebs called it a traveshamockery, to which I tip my hat.

Have you spotted any three-part portmanteaus — turduckenyms — in the wild? Leave a comment and let us know!


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Nancy Friedman is the chief wordworker at verbal-branding consultancy Wordworking, and the author of a fine blog on naming, branding and more called Fritinancy. Nancy has named a venture-capital firm, a laser hair-removal device, a mobile-money service, and many other companies and products. A former journalist, she still writes or ghostwrites articles, speeches, white papers, and books. Click here to read more articles by Nancy Friedman.

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Comments from our users:

Sunday September 19th 2021, 12:17 PM
Comment by: Naoko T. (New York, NY)
mRNA is messenger RNA, not modified RNA.
Sunday September 19th 2021, 1:48 PM
Comment by: Phil H. (Thessaloniki Greece)
I'll bet there are former Cub Scouts out there who also once aspired to acquire the Webelos badge: "Cub Scouts in fourth and fifth grades work toward the Webelos (pronounced "wee-buh-lohs" as the singular as well as the plural, the word originally was an acronym for the previous, now discontinued hierarchy Wolf/Bear/Lion/Scout with vowels added, and is now said to be short for "WE'll BE LOyal Scouts")." -- Wikipedia

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Electrifying!
Shall We Plus?
- 4 Comments